Today we welcome Deirdre Bagley, Executive Director of Mentors, Inc. to Good Works, to congratulate them on their 2013 award from the Washington Post Charities, a fund of the McCormick Foundation! Deirdre has been at Mentors, Inc. for about five years, with a volunteer history in youth leadership and literacy programming, and a professional history with a variety of nonprofit associations from higher education to environmental advocacy. Deirdre is at home with teen mentoring, combining her nonprofit leadership experience and personal mission interest.
1. What motivated you to begin working with Mentors, Inc? What need does it fulfill and how are you (and your organization) working towards meeting it?
I reached a point in my professional career where I felt driven to combine my professional leadership with my personal interest in working with youth, and find an organization that was well respected for their work. That led me to Mentors, Inc., which helps Washington, D.C. high school teens graduate from high school to combat the abysmal drop-out rates locally. We pair teens with a mentor to help expand their universe — internally and externally — to see and pursue what’s possible for their lives.
2. What exciting change or innovation is on your mind?
Partnerships that really work and truly enhance all partners’ capacity! We’ve begun working with the United Way and City Year at the Kelly Miller Middle School on an 8th to 9th grade transition project to improve 8th graders’ success with their new high school experience, to prevent them from joining the ranks of teens who drop out in 9th grade. City Year was already in the school with strong student, administration, and family relationships; the United Way was bringing corporate partners in as volunteer mentors, and we manage mentoring intake, matching, and support. We’re looking forward to following how these young teens do when they make the transition. Because all partners are doing what they do best and not duplicating others’ work, the project has great potential for replication.
3. Who inspires you (in the philanthropy world or otherwise)? Do you have a hero?
I don’t have heroes, but there are people who live their lives in ways I admire. Our teenagers inspire me. They persist and dream on, in spite of living in high poverty areas, attending under-performing schools, and having no family history of college-going. I admire young philanthropists who are donors and want to be connected to the causes they donate to, but don’t care to see their name displayed on a marble wall. I admire people who break out of traditional molds to do something new and positive in big and small ways. I admire children — they read the world and ask questions or provide solutions without the filter of experience, and say insightful things that adults have long lost sight of.
4. What is the single greatest challenge that your organization faces (besides finances) and how are you dealing with this challenge?
Growing our organization. Garnering enough volunteer support to meet the number of teens who want mentors; and non-mentor volunteer leadership to actively move our recruitment, giving, and programming forward.
5. What advice do you have for other people in your position?
Surround yourself with smart, positive, enthusiastic people! They help moving the world a lot less difficult and a lot more fun.
6. What’s next/coming up for you?
Next, is building our internal circle of supporters, including mentors, non-mentor volunteers, board members, and alumni (mentors and students) to help even more teens get match with mentors, graduate, persist in college, and become the people they were born to be.
7. Congratulations on receiving an award from the Washington Post Charities! What does this award mean to you?
Mentors, Inc. is a one-program operation, focused solely on matching teens with mentors to help them graduate and aspire to higher education. At least 90% of our high school seniors graduate (100% for the last two years), and at least 85% go on to college. Compared to 60% and 5-28% locally, this is amazing, particularly since we have no minimum requirement to participate in our program — only student motivation. The Washington Post Charities grant is already helping us serve more students, and advancing our 8th to 9th grade transition project which helps reduce the drop-out rate in D.C. We’re so pleased they chose our mission, and organization, to support!